How did Gigi (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Bibi (Adèle Exarchopoulos) meet? He was involved with cars, and she was the rich daughter of a businessman who allowed her to race them, and one day when they were both at the track and she had done very well in a competition, they crossed paths and impressed one another, Gigi forward enough to ask Bibi if she had a boyfriend, to which the answer was no. Soon they were getting along famously, but he had issues in his past that had brought him to a vey dark place: he was not really a car seller, he was more of a criminal to make his money, and he was reluctant to tell her about it. However, soon the truth would have to come out.
Racer and the Jailbird, or Le Fidèle to give the film its original Belgium title, was another collaboration between Schoenaerts and the director who arguably broke him internationally, Michaël R. Roskam, with their most successful collaboration Bullhead. This, on the other hand, delivered far less of an impression, as the consensus tended towards what had been satisfying in that previous effort was simply not put together well enough to be satisfying here. They were different tales, it should be pointed out, this was no sequel, but that sense of redemption through the grimmest aspects of life was returned to, and with the expected diminishing returns.
Schoenaerts and Exarchopoulos certainly made an attractive couple, though this was another instance of casting a male/female pair who had a rather large age difference, but the characters they were playing were less fully rounded personalities to inhabit and more delivery systems for a bleak worldview that prized suffering above all else, leading them to what amounted to a melodrama, and one of those which decided its lessons could best be related by punishing a beautiful woman. While Bibi had a cool job and seemed to be in control of her life, that was predictably revealed to be a total misrepresentation, and she was actually a martyr for her man whose redemption came at her expense.
Indeed, there was a lot disappointingly retrograde about this film which was not content to allow its female protagonist her highs without damning her to some very low lows. If you came to the English language title and thought you were in for a high octane thriller along the lines of a Belgian Fast and the Furious entry, only a touch more sophisticated, we were only given the flavour of the action in a few short sequences, Bibi racing and Gigi taking part in a road heist (an admittedly well-arranged scene), and as far as the sophistication went we were intended to believe they were a happening couple because Bibi insisted on anal sex before a big race to pep her up for a decent placing on the podium. As you can see, there was a leaning towards self-parody in this that the director barely seemed aware of.
What was most dismaying was how serious all this was, with no real humour when even the lighter toned bits were weighed down by Gigi's inability to resist the criminality of his friends and eventually, the fate of the woman who agrees to be his fiancée. It didn't matter which conclusion was presented to which character, the end result was the same, a sort of "how dare you think of enjoying yourself when there is so much misery in the world" two hours plus ticking off from Roskam, something you can imagine grew very wearing no matter how dedicated the two stars were to putting it across. If it had been more of a genre piece, with the emphasis on excitement, he might have gotten away with this, yet as it stood there was scene after scene of Gigi and Bibi being put through the grinder as proxy for the audience's perceived sins and even the light and shade was not so light, pitch black shade. Should you want a wallow in the terrible existence we all share, then this would appeal. Music by Raf Keunen.